Dan O'Heirity

So here we are in Australia at the end of another Covid-19 day. Frightening figures again today. According to my first data source – which is updated in real time for the number of confirmed cases worldwide and for the number of new cases and deaths with these latter figures being reset at GMT+0 each day – there have been 17,493 new cases giving a total of 549,303 cases worldwide. There have been 803 new deaths giving a total of 24,871 fatalities worldwide. The United States had 314 new cases and has now surpassed China in terms of total cases with a total of 85,749 cases.

The United States has reported 1,304 deaths which is below the fatality rate in China. Italy remains at 80,589 cases and has had 8,215 deaths. It is, therefore, certain that Italy will surpass China in terms of the total number of cases and that the death toll in Italy, which already far exceeds that of China, will rise even more. Spain had 6,723 new cases giving a total of 64,059 cases. The death toll in Spain stands at 4,858, well above the number of fatalities in China. Australia has had 130 new cases giving a total number of cases at 3,180. The death rate in Australia remains at 13.

Before I get to my second data source, I think that it is safe to assume that President Trump will be very unhappy with respect to the cases and deaths in the United States exceeding those in China. It is also safe to assume that he will continue to call the Covid-19 virus the “Chinese Virus“. Whilst the World Health Organization has warned of the dangers of calling Covid-19 virus the Chinese virus, saying that the virus knows no borders and does not care about ethnicity, Trump maintains that the term is appropriate because the virus originated in China.

Whilst it is impossible to argue with that fact, just as it is impossible to argue with the fact that China has taken no responsibility for the pandemic, it is also the case that calling the virus the Chinese Virus, may lead to racial profiling and racist abuse along with racist attacks. The problem here is not that Trump is wrong about the origin of the virus. Rather, the problem is that people are stupid and cannot separate out the question of maintaining the truth with respect to the origins of the virus from their visceral reactions to that truth, reactions that that lead to racism and to racist attacks. To state this in alternative terms, people are essentially stupid.

So, on to my second data source – which is also updated in real time but without daily figures for new cases and new fatalities – according to which there are 544,728 cases worldwide. The United States has 85,966 cases and 1,300 deaths. Italy has 80,589 cases and 8,215 deaths. Spain has 57,786 cases and 4,858 deaths. Australia has 3,143 cases and 13 deaths. And finally on the question of statistics, China’s Premier has warned local governments not to cover up new cases of the Covid-19 virus. The warning comes as travel restrictions are lifted to some degree in the Hubei Province and also at a time when the Chinese community along with world analysts are questioning the Covid-19 statistics coming out of China. Questioning China’s data seems reasonable as only a month or so ago China was reporting thousands of new cases a day and now it is reporting virtually no new cases per day.

In other news, Australia is still experiencing a degree of panic buying in supermarkets with, as this news article shows, huge queues forming at checkouts. Personally I have not experienced this phenomenon. I’ve been to my local supermarket three times this week and each time the store has been relatively empty with the shelves fully stocked. Perhaps I am just fortunate but that would be kind of odd. Panic buying has now extended to DIY superstores as people rush to buy products that they can not buy in bulk at supermarkets e.g. face masks, batteries, gas bottles, generators and fuel cans.

Panic buying has also hit what Australians call “Bottle Shops” and what other countries might refer to as Liquor Stores or Off Licenses. This panic buying of alcohol has resulted from people being unsure whether or not Bottle Shops would be counted as non-essential services and be shut down as a result. In this respect social distancing has gone out the window as people cram into the shops to stock up. Good to know. And now on to my regular “people are crap” piece. In the United States, a supermarket has had to throw out $35,000 worth of produce after a woman allegedly deliberately coughed all over the produce. The same story references the two cases in Australia that I reported on yesterday where one person spat on a police officer and a second person spat on a surf live saver.

The Covid-19 news has, I think, become more interesting over the last couple of days, particular in respect to what we might broadly refer to as China’s culpability with respect to the virus along with how China is trying to position itself in the Covid-19 world. First, let’s consider the news story from earlier on in this post in which China’s Premier has warned local governments not to report false data with respect to Covid-19 cases. At first sight, one might believe that China is doing the right thing in seeking to ensure that data for Covid-19 cases and fatalities is correctly reported and perhaps they are doing the right thing. Perhaps. But notice this fact. The Chinese Premier has had to tell local governments not to falsify their Covid19 reports.

Now ask yourself whether you can imagine Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom or Giuseppe Conte in Italy or Mario Rajoy in Italy or Scott Morrison in Australia telling their local governments and / or health authorities that they had better not report false data. If you ask that question then you will inevitably answer in the negative because the very idea is absurd in these countries in a way that is not absurd in China. Ironically, at the same time observers are wondering how honest China is being in reporting data for Covid-19 cases because the country has gone from reporting thousands of cases a day only one month or so ago to reporting almost no cases per day for the last week or so, a fact which is, to say the least, remarkable.

It is tempting to think that China, having published a book on how effectively the country managed the Covid-19 virus outbreak, actually has no choice but to report a victory over the Covid19 virus. After all, what value would the book have if, in fact, China had not all but eradicated the virus? This book is a part of what has been thought of as an all out strategic campaign on the part of China to re-write history with respect to the Covid-19 virus. China’s attempt to blame the outbreak of Covid-19 on a United States soldier who visited China is one aspect of this campaign. However, as of today, it seems to be the case that the fabricated story has not been believed, and consequently “‘China has retreated from spreading conspiracy theories online in the developing world alleging US involvement in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic after finding limited traction’, a US official said”.

I’ve written before that China has shown no inclination to admit that it was responsible for the Covid-19 outbreak and whilst this still seems to be the case, China is moving beyond a failure to own its own virus by trying to ensure that China is perceived to be acting responsibly as a global citizen by, for example, providing aid to other countries including Spain, Italy, France and Japan. Indeed, “China’s President Xi Jinping called Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and told him that China wants to help Italy in its times of crisis and build a ‘Health Silk Road'”. The “Silk Road” is a reference to China’s 900 million dollar project to establish new land and sea trade routes from China into Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Referencing the Silk Road project is an attempt by China to leverage the current pandemic to its own advantage and goes to show that China has no shame.

We’ll leave aside the wisdom of the West buying into China’s claim that the Silk Road project will lead to “a golden age of commerce that will benefit all” and focus instead on the “health silk road” statement. One could choose to believe that China is, or at least wants to be perceived to be, acting responsibly or one could go with a news headline that reads, “China cashes in off coronavirus, selling Spain $467 million in supplies, some of them substandard.” It is true that some of some of the supplies sent to Italy were substandard with China admitting that they had bought the testing kits from a company in China that was not licensed to manufacture the kits.

My mind just boggles at this fact. China actually bought testing kits from a company in China that was not licensed to make the kits. Minimally this fact points to a lack of effective company regulation in the country. After all, how did these companies even begin to manufacture testing kits if they were no licensed to do so. The story also points to an inordinate degree of stupidity at a governmental level. Usually I would say that the truth in the matter of whether or not China is trying to do the right thing likely lies somewhere in between the “Yes” and the “No” answers but in this case I am just going to go with, “No, they are not.”

First Published March 27th, 2020

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